A Fitting End to ‘Y’?
As is the case with pretty much every comic I read, I was a latecomer to Y: The Last Man–gimme a break, I only started reading comics a few years ago. But I was immediately stricken with Brian K. Vaughan’s extremely clever dialogue laced with some of the best and dorkiest pop culture references I’ve ever read–and that’s saying something because I used to follow Bill Amend’s weekly FoxTrot comic strip religiously. I was also impressed with the cover art for the series, which features some of the most beautiful and unique work, deserving of framed placement on a prominent wall moreso than a mylar sleeve on a dusty bookshelf. But that’s neither here nor there. I’m really writing this post because last night I finally caught up with last week’s issue–the third to last of the series–and I had to talk about it somewhere. So without further adieu, **SPOILER ALERT**.
What follows is an argument I’ve been having with myself ever since setting down Issue #58. I’m honestly torn right now between believing Brian K. Vaughan is a total idiot for killing off 355-the Malcolm Reynolds of the Y Universe (and for those of you who don’t get that reference, how ’bout Han Solo?)-and admiring his genius for it.
A moment to explain: this comic was written, I think for two reasons. One was to play out the male fantasy of being the last man on Earth. This is kind of an obvious observation, but necessary to get to the second purpose of the series, and I think really the real one, which was to subvert that fantasy. So throughout the books, we’ve had two narratives running through our heads-the typical MAN + WOMAN, DICK + JANE storyline that allows us to hope and believe that if Yorick can simply reunite with this bastion of femininity represented by his girlfriend Beth, everything will be okay.
Then we have the anti-narrative, as I said before the “real” narrative. This is represented by the fact that Yorick is the antithesis of a male lead-he’s a nerd, he knows way too much about Lord of the Rings and way too little about survival. That’s why all us fanboys love him, because he reminds us, perhaps a little too much, of ourselves. To offset Yorick, Vaughan gave us the anti-female lead-a rough-and-tumble, shoot now and ask questions later hard ass to hold The Last Man’s hand and cover his eyes during the scary parts. Sure we always have this feminine image-and thanks to Pia Guerra a very explicit one at that-of the beautiful Beth waiting in the wings, but for all intents and purposes, 355 is WOMAN, and she’s not much of one.
That is, until the payoff. For 54 issues we’ve followed Yorick’s never-ending quest to save his girlfriend. Sure, Vaughan has dangled the possibility of a romance between Y and 355 a few times, but if you’re like me you pretty much ignored those hints, wanting to believe in some archetypal notion of the “great American love story.” Good guys win, bad guys lose, and as always, Amazons prevail-or some such. And then, like a writer for Lost, it was as if Vaughan listened to the fans and gave them exactly what they wanted. Yorick and Beth, together at last! Happy ending! Sexy time! Right?
Vaughan subverted his own subversion-he allowed the fantasy to come true. 355 knits a scarf, hangs up the gun, buys a dress and drops her Double-Oh moniker. Yorick figures out how to punch a person without breaking his thumb. Man is man and woman is woman. Did anyone else feel as empty as I did? Of course, and that’s why the fantasy lasts about 10 pages. Now comes the turn: Yorick and Beth aren’t going to work out-expected, and welcome. Fine. Yorick and 355 are attracted to each other-as I said, that’s been dangled a few times before, so fine. But then killing 355, and with a sniper no less? I’m not so sure.
I know what you’re going to say: I’m upset about 355 because I was manipulated into wanting to see the great American story played out between Yorick and 355 instead of Yorick and Beth. But that’s not the case. A romance between Yorick and anyone else is by no means central to the story or what the story is trying to accomplish. What is essential is the idea that 355 acts as Yorick’s counter-balance. Man and Woman, Yin and Yang, Black and White-pick your metaphor. I don’t think one can or should exist without the other. And since we’ve already decided we don’t particularly like Yorick filling the role of “MAN,” without 355 there is no Last Man at all.
Aha, but this IS the end of series. So why not? I guess it ultimately comes down to what the reader wants to get out of an ending. Do you want some sort of Sopranos-style, “F*** you, this Universe is OVER, OVER,” ending, or some equally disappointing ride off into the sunset? Even though there are still two issues left, this one was the ending for me-I see no way the show could satisfactorily go on. But then again, the beauty of this series has always been the dichotomy between what the reader expects and what the universe presents. So in that sense, perhaps a perfect ending is still to come. And perhaps it’s just a comic book, and I should stop reading so deeply into it. I don’t know-somebody out there convince me.